I’m fed up of my War Studies classmates being sexist

It’s like the Meninist Twitter account on steroids

My friends will all tell you that, more often than not, I speak my mind with a fair amount of confidence. The product of an all girls school in Newcastle and an outspoken father, I’ve been raised without the natural instinct to measure myself against men, because I never thought I had to. Until now.

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a new realisation. I’ve spent seven months at King’s College within a group of guys who are hell-bent on Sandhurst or the Marines or whatever so I’m pretty well adjusted to the deluge of military jargon and camaraderie that comes with being a female in War Studies. At first I found it entertaining: the toilet humour, the constant piss-taking, the lack of bitchiness.

But now I’m starting to realise that the “lad culture” of the guys on my course is inherently sexist and gender unequal. This is no fault of the university, who do their best to teach a traditionally masculine subject in a way which considers feminine perspectives. Unfortunately, some of my class-mates don’t get the message. I appreciate the fact that War Studies is an old man’s game but there comes a point when I have to question why my presence within a student body is judged based on my gender. I have been asked the question, on many occasions by male students on my course: “Why are you doing War Studies?”. Not once have I heard this question being directed at another guy. Interesting, right?

Comments are made over my appearance, dress sense (or lack of) and relationships I maintain with men have consistently surfaced to the forefront of lecture and seminar small-talk. A female TA spoke openly in my first semester about the sexism present in War Studies due to male dominance in the field. There are guys on my course who believe women shouldn’t be allowed to serve in combatant roles within the military. This, and other comments and jokes suggested to me that War Studies wants to exist in a male-dominated vacuum. In short, War Studies is scared of women.

More recently, a lecture on ‘The Body at War’ last week erupted into a storm of sexist accusations hurled towards our female lecturer because she was focusing mainly on women being subjected to sexual violence during conflict. The boys in my class felt she wasn’t talking enough about male rape and sexual abuse, despite this area of academia being largely undocumented and lacking statistics. She agreed explicitly that sexual violence affected both men and women with cases of male rape largely going unreported due to the stigma attached to homosexuality, especially within the military.

I also found it profoundly odd that some of the boys chose to take offence at the suggestion that men have and will continue to commit acts of sexual abuse against women and men, as if the lecturer was implying they would themselves commit such acts. They were completely unwilling to take the opportunity to consider sexual abuse as a weapon and consider the impact of it on both men and women, even going so far as to argue that the statistic suggesting one in four female students will experience sexual abuse while studying at university is false.

This disregard for the likelihood of a woman being sexually abused at university left me feeling deeply unsettled. I admit, my male peers are probably unaware that some of their classmates, myself included, have experienced sexual or emotional abuse in the past but it doesn’t make their comments or jokes acceptable. No wonder we only have one female professor.

I recognise that a large proportion of War Studies students don’t participate, intentionally or otherwise, in sexist humour, and I consider many to be close friends who support raising awareness of sexual abuse and gender inequality. But I wonder whether those who engage in sexist humour would continue to do so if they knew of the experiences of their classmates. Would they still openly question the competence of women within the department?

To paraphrase one of the guys in my class, men are biologically wired to protect women. If that’s really the case though, you have to wonder why most of my War Studies class are hell-bent on telling women they don’t care about us.